January 10, 2024 by Joe Ross
The Infrastructure Act’s Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) grant program is gaining momentum across the Country. The process starts with Initial Proposals from the states to NTIA that establish how the states will evaluate BEAD grant proposals, the geographies over which they will accept applications from grant applicants, the challenge process the state will undertake, and how the state will comply with the Infrastructure Act’s various requirements. NTIA provided specific requirements to the states on how the Initial Proposals were to be organized. Draft volumes are to be shared with the public and are posted on the NTIA website (here), along with dates for public comment deadlines and other information. Televate encourages all local governments to become familiar with their state’s initial proposal to NTIA as it establishes a fairly detailed plan regarding how each state’s BEAD grants will be awarded. The two major opportunities for local governments are challenges to the unserved and underserved locations, and local coordination requirements during the grant award process.
Due to the aggressive BEAD timelines established by the federal government, the states will need to fast track the implementation of their programs. An important first step in the process is for states to conduct a challenge process whereby “a unit of local government, nonprofit organization, or broadband service provider can challenge a determination made by the Eligible Entity in the Initial Proposal as to whether a particular location or community anchor institution within the jurisdiction of the Eligible Entity is eligible for the grant funds.” In other words, it is the local government’s last chance to capture all locations that are not served with high-quality broadband.
Many states are using the model challenge process provided by NTIA that only allows for 30 days to submit a challenge to the unserved and underserved locations. Therefore, now is the time when local government needs to be prepared to support these challenges using information provided by the public. The NTIA model includes details of standard documentation for successful challenges that will require a substantial effort to affect the list of unserved and underserved locations. It’s critical that local governments be prepared to collect this information from the public to identify all unserved and underserved improperly captured in the FCC database, and to best ensure that no locations are left underserved. For example, the model challenge allows for speed tests to challenge that a particular home or business has the required 100 Mbps up and 20 Mbps down data speeds. The model requires three speed tests on three different days in addition to providing various documentation regarding these tests.
Likewise, locations that lack service from providers who claim service in the latest FCC maps can also be challenged with information from the provider (e.g., their website shows that service is not available at that location) and other sources. For localities with major service accuracy issues, now is the time to correct problems associated with locations that are serviceable and not in the FCC database, locations where providers have erroneously stated service, or locations where providers are not delivering speeds required by the Infrastructure Act. Challenges in the model challenge process can only be received from local jurisdictions, non-profits, and internet service providers, so local municipalities are the most logical conduit for public participation in the process.
We recommend that every jurisdiction take this opportunity to ensure the service status for every address is correct and to leverage the community to make it happen. Leveraging your social media channels, surveys, and other resources, you can make sure that no portion of your jurisdiction falls through the cracks and is left with inadequate broadband service following this opportunity.
Minimally, each state has the responsibility to provide each political subdivision with the opportunity to comment on the state’s BEAD grant award process proposals to the NTIA. And states can further introduce local perspectives in the award process. For example, NTIA encourages states to adopt selection criteria that factors in the grantee’s support from local government. Some states have evaluation criteria that incorporate local support into their scoring criteria. As a result, a county or city government might have a say in which applicant is selected via the state’s BEAD application and award process. The local government might favor applications that provide service to 100%of all unserved and underserved locations. Alternatively, the local government might favor applications that maximize fiber-based solutions to ensure a “future-proof” broadband environment. In our experience, the ISPs do not want to share details with the local government in the fear that they could become public or be shared with their competitors. You may need to execute non-disclosure agreements with the ISPs to assure them that you will not share their confidential information. There may be other mechanisms that could be employed as well (e.g., your endorsement could be conditional. For example, you will award your support to only those applications that include 100% service using fiber to the premises).
Ultimately, it is important that participating jurisdictions understand your state’s scoring mechanisms, your unserved and underserved areas, the ISPs who are likely to apply for grants, and how the state’s scoring mechanisms incentivize your priorities. You should have an open dialog with your state to understand how you can influence the outcome that you are seeking and be engaged throughout the BEAD process to make it happen.
Contact me at email@example.com if you have any feedback on this blog or if you’d like to find out more on how Televate can help you make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime BEAD grant program.